Supporting a Healthy Stress Response Naturally
There are very few guarantees in life but one thing we know for sure, stress happens. How we react to stress is going to make all the difference to our health and well-being.
Although, not all stress is bad stress. Our stress response is there for a reason. It’s part of our ability to survive dangerous situations. For example, when we perceive danger we are thrown into “fight or flight.” Our muscles tense, our pulse and brain activity increases, and chemicals like adrenalin and cortisol surge. This is our body’s response to motivate us to act quickly in these life-threatening situations and gets us out of harm’s way. And this is amazing!
Our bodies are so beautifully designed to respond in this way but many of us live in a constant state of chronic stress.
The negative effects of having our stress response constantly triggered are legendary and ultimately can wreak havoc on our health. Anger and irritability can increase. Motivation and concentration can decrease. Immune health is challenged and heart rate increases. And these are just a fraction of the negative impacts an unhinged stress response can have.
Getting a handle on our stress response is critical
Thankfully we have options which can help us stay cool, calm and collected when stressful situations arise.
First off, get a good night’s sleep. You know as well as I that when we don’t sleep well, our stress response can be unbalanced. Not sleeping well makes it more difficult to handle stress. But getting a good night’s sleep can often be elusive. In fact, nearly 70 million Americans experience some sort of sleep disturbance.
One simple solution is to try and turn off your electronic devices earlier then usual. Many of us are up late into the evening with our computers on, reading the news, scrolling through social media and watching our favorite shows. This instigates lots of brain activity during a time when we should be preparing to sleep. Plus, all this exposure to the bright lights of the computer screen is throwing off our circadian rhythm which helps regulate our sleep cycles.
There is a gland deep in the center of our brain, the pineal gland, which is very sensitive to light exposure. For example, when the sun goes down and darkness descends the pineal gland releases melatonin which helps make us sleepy. Melatonin is produced through the night, helping keep us asleep, and then when the sun rises melatonin production slows and we wake up refreshed. But we’re so far off from this natural rhythm the result for many us is that our sleep cycle is off.
Try shutting down your devices earlier in the evening and see how this helps
Many people also find help rebalancing the circadian rhythm with the occasional melatonin supplement. If you choose to give melatonin a try start small, with a .5 milligram or 1 milligram tablet.
Another common factor that challenges our ability to handle stress is our diets. Eating sugary foods can really do a number on how we respond to stress. You’ve heard of the “sugar crash,” right? After that first rush of energy we get from sugar and carbohydrate heavy foods, we crash creating a sort of yo-yo situation. With all this up and down in energy, our emotions can also go up and down. Roller-coasting emotions can definitely alter how we respond to stress and it’s not good.
Avoiding sugary foods and eating a nutritious diet can go a long way in supporting a calm stress response
Exercise, or lack of it, can also effect how we respond to stress. Sitting at our desks, living a sedentary life, Netflix and chilling too much — get up and move your body! Movement really helps diffuse anxiety and pent-up energy. And you don’t have to be a triathlete to make it count. A stroll out in nature, yoga, gardening, it all adds up and makes a difference to how we react to stress.
Plus exercise, especially cardio, can help support lung health which also plays a role in how we respond to stress. More specifically, are we breathing deeply or taking shallow breaths?
Amongst all the things that happen to our bodies when we are under undue stress is shallow breathing. Shallow breathing arises with stress and at the same time, continued shallow breathing can make it more difficult to handle the stress.
Calm, rhythmic and deep diaphragmatic breathing, especially during acute stressful situations, can help us respond with greater ease and clarity
To take a calming, deep breath first off make sure you’re not hunched over, (like many of us who are often on our phones and computers). Lift and open your chest, rest your shoulders down and back, give your lungs room to breath. Next put your hand over your belly to feel the air first fill up your diaphragm, then take that breath and fill the lungs all the way. Hold a few seconds then slowly, slowly release that breath in reverse, first from your diaphragm then out through the lungs.
Continue this exercise until you regain your composure
This diaphragmatic breathing helps support a healthy, balanced heart rate, relaxes our muscles and supports a healthy stress response. Do this breathing exercise as often as you need and become aware of your breathing as you move throughout your day.
One of the latest options many are finding useful for occasional anxiety and stress response support is CBD
Emerging and preliminary research indicates CBD may be helpful in supporting a healthy stress response. Observational studies and case reports support these findings1. Although controlled clinical studies are needed a large retrospective case series published in 2019 suggested that CBD may have a calming effect in the central nervous system2.
The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord and governs most functions of the body and mind. It oversees our thoughts and interpreters our external environment. Consider adding CBD to your toolbox for a balanced stress response.
As you can see, the best approach to supporting a healthy stress response, and health overall, is a comprehensive approach. A healthy diet, restorative sleep, fitness and movement, deep breaking and dietary supplementation can go a long way, helping you today, tomorrow and throughout your life!
- (O’Sullivan, Saoirse. 2021), “Could Cannabidiol Be….”, PMID: 33614948, Feb 12;6(1):7-18.
- (Shannon, Scott 2019), “Cannabidiol in…A Large Case Series”, PMID: 30624194.
Julie’s passion for healthy living began at the age of 15 while working at a health food store in Southern California. She turned her passion into a profession and has spent decades educating people on the benefits of botanicals traveling the nation speaking at special events, online and through her written work.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.